Napa has a well-kept secret: the demonstration garden at Connolly Ranch maintained by the UC Master Gardeners of Napa County. I am there almost every Thursday morning pulling weeds, trimming plants and caring for the succulent and container gardens. The camaraderie among the volunteer gardeners is delightful and keeps me coming back.
This is a teaching garden, designed to showcase research-based gardening practices and provide a place for the public to learn. Inspired by similar gardens in Fresno County and Santa Clara County, Napa County Master Gardeners began looking for a suitable site in 2000. It needed to be of adequate size with water, parking and accessibility. And, of course, it had to be affordable.
At the time, Connolly Ranch was being managed by the Land Trust of Napa County. Connolly Ranch and Master Gardeners have a similar mission. We both focus on education and connecting local people to the environment. Master Gardeners focus on adult education, while Connolly Ranch aims to connect kids and their families to nature. We were offered a sloping site in the Ranch adjacent to the garden area.
In the summer of 2002, we began preparing the site for the future demonstration garden. Cleanup was the first task: hand-pulling weeds and hauling away years of accumulated debris. A tractor leveled the site and then created terraces. Master Gardener volunteers built a retaining wall and raised beds.
Master Gardeners and local businesses, including Van Winden’s Garden Center in Napa and Mid City Nursery in American Canyon, donated plants and trees. A non-working fountain was repurposed as a succulent garden, and old tires were made into planters.
With enthusiasm, creativity and hard work, Master Gardeners made the many improvements that you see today. We constructed two storage sheds and a covered patio with benches and tables as well as a bulletin board built with the help of some Eagle Scouts.
We have designed and planted a bird, bee and hummingbird garden; a fire-wise garden; a succulent garden; a butterfly garden; an herb garden; a Mediterranean garden; and seasonal and container vegetable gardens. There are espaliered fruit trees and a rose garden. The roses are trained high to foil deer.
Each season, volunteers conduct field tests of vegetables and flowers to determine which varieties grow best in Napa County. Their progress is documented and made available through the Master Gardeners of Napa County website and publications.
Last year, we planted corn, squash and beans by the Iroquois method. The Iroquois determined that this trio, which they called “the three sisters,” helped each other thrive. The beans feed the soil and climb up the corn stalks, while the large squash leaves shade the ground and keep weeds under control. Produce from the garden is donated to the Napa Food Bank.
The demonstration garden provides training for Master Gardeners on topics such as how to build and maintain a composting worm bin, how to espalier fruit trees and how to identify weeds. The Master Gardeners are often on hand during public events at Connolly Ranch to answer questions about gardening and provide educational garden activities for the whole family.
Master Gardeners volunteer more than 900 hours yearly to keep the garden looking great and to educate the public.
The demonstration garden is open to the public on the first Wednesday of every month (from April through November from 3-5 p.m.; from December through March from 2-4 p.m.) and the second Saturday of every month. It is also open during some public events throughout the year. Connolly Ranch is at 3141 Browns Valley Road in Napa (http://connollyranch.org/). Park in the gravel parking lot on Thompson Avenue, then walk left past the greenhouse, the new Beckstoffer chicken house and the big barn. Enter through the garden gate and veer to the left down the path through the children’s garden area. You will see the entrance to the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden.
Before you enter, look to the right to see a California native plant garden dedicated to one of our members, take a deep breath and enjoy the scents, then walk through the gate to our little Eden.
UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Rose Pruning” on Saturday, Jan. 7, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Certified rosarian Lynne Andresen and other Master Gardener rose enthusiasts will demonstrate and explain proper pruning techniques and review rose types, common rose disorders and routine maintenance. Online registration (credit card only); mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).